(Thanks Cesar for the idea!)
Between working in technology and spending the rest of my time doing Crossfit, I see a lot of mobility issues on a daily basis. Mobility isn’t a one-time thing, but an ongoing practice. Even now, almost twenty years down the line, I still have to remind myself that I can’t do a split like I did when I was taking gymnastics classes. At least, not without a proper warm-up like my little ten-year-old self could do.
The more active I become, the more I enjoy and prioritize my own mobility and flexibility. A daily, hour (plus) mobility and/or yoga practice can seem unfeasible, but it really doesn’t need to take that much time. The key is consistency and efficiency. Spending an hour on stretching your hamstrings with poor alignment is, unsurprisingly, much less helpful than five minutes of targeted practice.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for more effective mobility work and movements that can make a big difference in a short amount of time.
1. Fold from the hips.
When talking about flexibility, the first thing that pops into mind for most people is being able to touch your toes. It’s very common to have limited hamstring mobility, especially for folks who work at a computer or sit for most of the day. Sitting often leads to tight hip flexors, which can then lead to a tight back and, subsequently, tight hamstrings.
While it’s tempting to simply bounce up and down to bring your fingertips to your toes, that can keep hamstring mobility out of reach – quite literally – for many people. Instead, try focusing on hinging from your hip and keeping your back straight as you reach towards your toes. Can’t reach? No problem. Either let your arms hang as far as they can go or use blocks to “bring the floor to you.” Keeping your back straight, or, more accurately, neutral, allows your pelvis to tilt forward, rather than putting unnecessary strain on your lower back by rounding your lumbar spine.
2. Use props.
Ego is relevant in every part of our lives, from interpersonal relationships to work to sports and, ultimately, to our approach to yoga. “What happens when you finally reach the perfect execution of a pose?” my teachers used to always ask. The answer? Nothing. While it’s extremely gratifying to see progress in any number of poses or stretches, being able to do it “perfectly” doesn’t mean your mobility is any better or worse in relation to yourself. Bodies go through changes on a daily basis and some days you’re just more flexible than others. The important part is to practice, practice, practice over time.
In any pose or movement, it’s important to both gauge and, subsequently, respect where your body is at that moment in time. Using props is one of the best things you can do for your body when practicing yoga. It allows you to try and experiment with a wider variety of movements and poses while making sure you’re doing so in a safe and aligned manner. Pushing yourself into a position that feels bad is much less effective in the long run than using tools to perfectly execute the movement based on how your body feels right now. In fact, I like to say that using props is an even more advanced practice since it means you know yourself and your body well-enough to respect what it needs.
3. Feet flexibility.
One of my absolute favorite and completely underappreciated stretches is also one of these most simple – the Yin Yoga Toe Squat. How do you do it? Kneel on the ground – place a blanket or mat under your knees if the floor is hard – tuck your toes under, and sit, keeping your feet flexed.
Most of the time, our feet remain cramped in shoes and, otherwise, pretty ignored. This stretch is surprisingly intense for most people the first few times they do it because it’s a unique position for your feet to be in. Yet your feet are the foundation of nearly every other movement you do. From walking to running, squatting to deadlifting, it’s important to have a solid foundation.
4. Eagle arms.
I have terrible posture. Despite having a proper desk and chair, I spend most of my time working from the couch or at the kitchen table, hunched over my computer because I like a change of scenery throughout the day. When I’m not at the computer, I’m often on my phone, looking down into the mini computer in my hands. My shoulders tend to round forward and, to top it off, I tend to carry tension in my upper back.
Eagle arms is part of a yoga position, garudasana, that offers an excellent stretch to the upper back and shoulders. In fact, it’s one of the only stretches that’s able to reach these muscles for me and I absolutely love it. To enter, rest one elbow above the other and “twist” around the opposite forearm until the palms of your hands are touching. Understandably, this can be a difficult position to enter, depending on your shoulder and wrist mobility, so if you can’t touch your hands, it’s okay. The idea is to reach your hands towards each other in this twist as much as you can.
As you hold the pose, try not to let your elbows droop down towards your chest and allow your hands and wrists to remain at a 90-degree angle from your elbow.
5. Make mobility part of your routine.
I include doing yoga or ROMWOD on my list of to-dos every single day. (It’s actually a recurring task in my Todoist.) Sometimes I do it while I’m reading emails, and other times I do it with more of a meditative purpose in mind. It depends on the day. Nevertheless, I’ve found something that works for me and I’ve been seeing a lot of improvement. Despite being a yoga teacher for more than three years, I deprioritized my own mobility and recovery for quite some time – and I’ve had more than a few experiences where I’ve paid the price for that.
I strongly believe that any movement is good movement, as long as it feels good for your body. If you’re too busy or just not feeling up to a more intense yoga routine, why not try some chair yoga instead? If twenty minutes feels unbearable on a hectic day, try to find five minutes to stop and stretch right where you are. There is a wide and diverse array of what healthy, balanced movement and mobility means and it’s just as unique as each of our individual bodies. Respect that! By approaching mobility with the right mindset and making it tailored to you, it becomes much more accessible and fun.
If you try any of these tips or stretches, let me know what you think! There are so many ways to make them more accessible or more challenging, depending on your need – and how you’re feeling.